Last weekend a bipartisan group of Alexandrians began circulating a petition to remove Melissa W. Luby from office as a member of the Alexandria School Board.
Luby was elected in May, 2003, and has come under fire from some in the community for her involvement in Superintendent Rebecca L. Perry’s drunk driving arrest.
Luby attended a meeting at Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy with Perry on Thursday, April 22, and then went to Joe Theismann’s Restaurant where she had drinks with Perry. Shortly after 12:30 a.m. Perry was stopped by an Alexandria police officer and was charged with driving while intoxicated. Luby was in the car with her at the time of the arrest but was not charged with any offense.
Jim Boissonault, the parent of a T. C. Williams High School graduate and father of a current student at Lyles-Crouch, initiated the petition.
“I am very concerned about Mrs. Luby’s behavior and her ongoing participation in votes related to Ms. Perry’s continued employment,” Boissonault said. “The School Board is responsible for supervising the education of the city’s public school children and as such controls one third of the city’s budget – more than $150 million. Ms. Luby has not demonstrated the kind of judgment that I believe is needed for someone in this position.”
In Virginia, there is no statute for recalling elected officials such as the one recently used in California to recall that state’s governor. The removal statute requires a higher level of proof than just collecting signatures and results in court action.
“The statute says that the petition must state the reason that the officeholder should be removed,” said Alexandria Commonwealth’s Attorney S. Randolph Sengel. “It must also contain signatures of registered voters in the district in which the officeholder was elected.
“After the signatures are collected and verified, the petition is filed in Circuit Court. That’s when my office becomes involved,” Sengel said.
Once the petition is filed in Circuit Court, the judge issues a show cause rule that is served on the officeholder. The officeholder has five to ten days to show cause why he or she should not be removed from office. After the show cause rule is returned to the court, the case goes forward.
“I believe that if it is a completely frivolous allegation, my office has the option to request that it be dismissed,” Sengel said. “If not, the case goes forward to a hearing.”
THAT HEARING can be held before a judge or the officeholder can demand a jury trial. “Each side gets to present evidence and the judge or the jury makes a decision,” Sengel said.
The petition to remove Luby from office alleges that she has “met the standard of point 1 of Virginia code 24.2-233, regarding “neglect of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence in the performance of duties when that neglect of duty, misuse of office or incompetence in the performance of duties has a material adverse effect upon the conduct of the office.”
Specifically, the petition alleges that Luby “permitted” Perry to drink and drive and as Perry’s supervisor, she failed to perform her duty by allowing Perry to drive drunk and endanger lives. It also alleges that “Board Member Luby sought to use her office to intervene in a police matter on behalf of Perry by first phoning the Alexandria city mayor…and the city manager…inappropriately and illegally attempted to use her influence to change the outcome of a police matter.”
Boissonault has asked members of the School Board to ask that Luby refrain from voting on issues related to Perry’s employment. No member of the Board has spoken publicly about Luby’s involvement in the matter.
School Board chair Mark O. Wilkoff has refused to comment on Luby’s involvement in the incident as have other Board members. Board member Arthur Schmalz responded to Boissonault’s inquiry by stating that it would not be appropriate for him to comment on another Board member’s behavior.
BOARD MEMBER Kenneth Foran, who requested that the Board reconsider Perry’s contract in light of a proposed raise at the last Board meeting, said, “I know that some in the Alexandria Community are calling for an end to an elected school board, because of falling support brought about by recent events. I believe that these matters are failures of individuals, both employer and employee, and do not represent a systematic problem. This is a failure of individuals and does not represent the failure of a system. "I am very concerned about the message that these acts send to our students, our teachers, our parents, our City Council and to the Alexandria taxpayers.
"These tragic events have squarely placed me in the minority. I shall continue to follow what I believe to be the proper course of action and to do all that I believe is in the best interests of our students and the Alexandria Community," Foran concluded.
Foran and Vice Chair Gwendolyn Lewis were the only members of the Board to vote against Perry’s raise.
Boissonault expects to collect sufficient signatures to file the petition over the course of the summer. “This petition drive has the support of many concerned citizens,” he said.
Boissonault needs less than 800 signatures on the petition. Melissa Luby did not return phone calls for comment.